Thorrun Govind: ‘I worry pharmacy teams will be abused over face masks’

The youngest chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's English Pharmacy Board talks about face masks in pharmacies, the value of pharmacist independent prescribers and the importance of inclusion and wellbeing in the profession.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the RPS English Pharmacy Board

It’s been a meteoric few years for Thorrun Govind, who was recently elected as chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS’s) English Pharmacy Board. In just three years, she has gone from being elected as the youngest member of an RPS national pharmacy board to chairing that same board: again, the youngest person to do so.

As Govind says, the three weeks following her successful election on 22 June 2021 have been busy. On 8 July 2021, Govind wrote an open letter encouraging better cooperation between GPs and community pharmacists, before calling upon NHS England to invest in pharmacist independent prescribers. Then, on 14 July 2021, the RPS in England joined forces with other professional bodies in a letter calling on prime minister Boris Johnson to make face masks mandatory in healthcare settings.

Earlier this month, on 3 July 2021, Govind joined colleagues from across healthcare for a ceremony in remembrance of colleagues who have sadly died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chatting to The Pharmaceutical Journal late in the afternoon, after a long day of Zoom meetings, Govind describes her approach going forward and how she thinks the RPS should meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Do you see yourself as a role model for younger pharmacists?

I hope to inspire younger members of the profession in any capacity. Whatever your age is, you can still be a leader within the profession. You don’t need a title to be able to engage with things and show leadership. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have some amazing opportunities early on in my career; for example, to be able to go on BBC Two’s Newsnight and represent the profession when I was about two years’ qualified.

As COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, are you worried about pharmacy teams having to police the wearing of masks?

My worry is about pharmacy team members having people being abusive towards them. We’ve seen it already during previous COVID-19 lockdowns. 

We have got enough to be getting on with rather than policing face coverings, which is a national issue

The joint letter published on 14 July 2021 was great because it was signed by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nurses, the College of Optometrists and the British Dental Association. In terms of mask wearing, we’ve called for it to be mandatory in healthcare settings. The reason we have done that is because we want to protect our vulnerable patients, and we want to protect the pharmacy teams as well. We know pharmacy teams already have a lot to do — we have got enough to be getting on with rather than policing face coverings, which is a national issue.

Do you think pharmacies are ready for the COVID-19 booster programme?

We are well placed to be involved with the booster programme because we have already established ourselves with flu. Pharmacies are ideal because anyone can walk in through that door and have a chat with you. We have heard a lot about vaccine hesitancy, and pharmacy teams are ideally placed to help deal with that, so I can definitely see us playing a massive role in the COVID-19 booster campaign.

Why is it so important that we get more pharmacist independent prescribers?

A few years ago I spoke to The Guardian about how I knew exactly what a certain patient needed but I could not provide it because I wasn’t able to prescribe it. In the interest of patient access [to medicines], we’ve got to support independent prescribers. It is going to make the patient journey so much better. In Wales, we are seeing how well it can be done.

Pharmacists want to do it. I get contacted by so many people who say to me either one of two things: “I’ve got someone who will supervise me, but the funding is the problem” or “I’ve got the funding, but I don’t have anyone to supervise me”. I definitely appreciate how difficult it is. If patients can be supported in a community pharmacy setting, so that we are saving the cases that really need to be seen in general practice or hospital, then obviously we are helping the whole healthcare system.

Pharmacists were recently added to the Home Office shortage occupation list. Have you experienced the effects of workforce shortages on the ground?

That’s a difficult one. We know that in some areas they are having difficulties finding pharmacists, but we also know that there is a really big, engaged locum workforce, who are ready and willing to step up and be a really valuable part of the team.

Obviously, we have had quite a lot of people involved in COVID-19 vaccination. That’s been amazing, but that’s meant some of the workforce who maybe would have been going into pharmacies have been — quite rightly — stepping up and helping with the vaccination efforts. Even myself, I’ve been helping out with vaccination and it’s been so rewarding to be able to help the national effort.

Talks restarted in June 2021 on proposals for pharmacy degree apprenticeships. Do you think that might help address workforce shortages?

It’s a difficult one for our pharmacy colleagues and there are varying opinions around the table. As a person, I’m always open to listening, but I recognise the hard work of a rigorous university degree: I’ve been through that experience, so I understand the concerns that people have around the apprenticeship programme.

How will the Royal Pharmaceutical Society measure the success of the inclusion and wellbeing pledge?

It’s fundamental that we don’t just sign this and let it go. We have to live and breathe this.

How we can see it’s working is by seeing people calling out racism and sexism. We’re making sure that we’re doing what we can to teach people about how uncomfortable it can feel to be in those types of situations. 

It is really important to share the stories of the people whose voices need to be heard more

We’re going to carry on surveying to see how the profession is doing. It’s a continual journey: I’m not going to stop focusing on it, and the organisation is not going to stop focusing on it, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s ridiculous that some of the stuff that we see in 2021 is still there, and people are making those sorts of comments.

External to my position at the RPS, I’m a mental health trustee, and I welcome reading what some other organisations within the profession have shared about experiences that members have had around their mental health. We’ve also shared things that people have experienced because of their protected characteristics — we’ve been able to help speak to people and find out how those have impacted on their lives. I think it is really important to share the stories of the people whose voices need to be heard more.

Some pharmacists have been trolled on Twitter or had people being unpleasant to them. You have experienced this yourself. Is that a widespread behaviour in the profession, or is it just a tiny minority?

For the most part, we are very much an understanding and caring profession. There might be a small minority who use social media, sometimes anonymously, to engage in those sorts of behaviours.

In any position, when you put yourself forward, you have to accept that you are going to get — quite rightly — constructive criticism, and I have no problem with that. But it’s when it turns personal. There’s a Teddy Roosevelt quote about “the man in the arena“, and it’s about how maybe if you’re not in that person’s position, you can’t understand what it’s like.

It’s very easy for people to go on social media and complain about things when they’ve not actually tried to make any effort to improve the situation. Even when I was newly qualified, if I saw that that medicines were being mentioned in a news piece and there was no mention of a pharmacist, I would find the journalist’s number and call them and say: “Do you know that you’ve missed out pharmacy?”

On an individual basis, we are all an ambassador for the profession. On social media, you’re an ambassador for the profession. It’s OK to speak up, or speak out, but I think it is heard much more if you say it in a in a well-mannered way rather than if you sling mud or insults.

Environmental sustainability is one of the Society’s priorities for 2021. What good can individuals and smaller businesses do?

It is on the radar of pharmacists. Sometimes we might receive medication back and we’ve got patients asking us if we can reuse them. In hospitals, there are staff who are seeing things dispensed or provided in plastics. I think it’s going to become a bigger issue.

Making sure that the planet’s OK for our future pharmacists, and future generations, is definitely important

Over the past year, we’ve all had a bit more time to reflect on what’s important. Making sure that the planet’s OK for our future pharmacists, and future generations, is definitely one of them. It’s very much on the RPS’s radar; we want to do better as a profession. It’s a journey, and one I think we’re all keen to get involved with.

At the end of your first term, what would you like to look back on and say that you’ve achieved?

Honestly, this past three weeks has been really busy; we’ve done so much. Advocacy and raising the profile of pharmacy is absolutely what’s been on my mind since before I even qualified. I want to be able to say that I encouraged collaboration with external organisations and more consensus, and more of a shared vision, with all organisations within the profession being able to stand together and present a united profession.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, July 2021, Vol 307, No 7951;307(7951)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.96634

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